Consensus-Based Guidance on Opioid Management in Individuals With Advanced Cancer-Related Pain and Opioid Misuse or Use Disorder

Published in: JAMA Oncology, Volume 8, No. 8, pages 1107–1114 (August 2022). doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2022.2191

Posted on on September 21, 2022

by Katie Fitzgerald Jones, Dmitry Khodyakov, Robert Arnold, Hailey W. Bulls, Emily Dao, Jennifer Kapo, Diane Meier, Judith Paice, Jane Liebschutz, Christine Ritchie, et al.


Opioid misuse and opioid use disorder (OUD) are important comorbidities in people with advanced cancer and cancer-related pain, but there is a lack of consensus on treatment.


To develop consensus among palliative care and addiction specialists on the appropriateness of various opioid management strategies in individuals with advanced cancer-related pain and opioid misuse or OUD.

Design, Setting, and Participants

For this qualitative study, using ExpertLens, an online platform and methodology for conducting modified Delphi panels, between August and October 2020, we conducted 2 modified Delphi panels to understand the perspectives of palliative and addiction clinicians on 3 common clinical scenarios varying by prognosis (weeks to months vs months to years). Of the 129 invited palliative or addiction medicine specialists, 120 participated in at least 1 round. A total of 84 participated in all 3 rounds.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Consensus was investigated for 3 clinical scenarios: (1) a patient with a history of an untreated opioid use disorder, (2) a patient taking more opioid than prescribed, and (3) a patient using nonprescribed benzodiazepines.


Participants were mostly women (47 [62%]), White (94 (78 [65%]), and held MD/DO degrees (115 [96%]). For a patient with untreated OUD, regardless of prognosis, it was deemed appropriate to begin treatment with buprenorphine/naloxone and inappropriate to refer to a methadone clinic. Beginning split-dose methadone was deemed appropriate for patients with shorter prognoses and of uncertain appropriateness for those with longer prognoses. Beginning a full opioid agonist was deemed of uncertain appropriateness for those with a short prognosis and inappropriate for those with a longer prognosis. Regardless of prognosis, for a patient with no medical history of OUD taking more opioids than prescribed, it was deemed appropriate to increase monitoring, inappropriate to taper opioids, and of uncertain appropriateness to increase the patient's opioids or transition to buprenorphine/naloxone. For a patient with a urine drug test positive for non-prescribed benzodiazepines, regardless of prognosis, it was deemed appropriate to increase monitoring, inappropriate to taper opioids and prescribe buprenorphine/naloxone.

Conclusions and Relevance

The findings of this qualitative study provide urgently needed consensus-based guidance for clinicians and highlight critical research and policy gaps.

Research conducted by

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